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5 OCTOBER 2014
Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the vineyard of the Lord. The vineyard of the Lord is his “dream,” the project that he’s cultivated with all his love, like a farmer cares for his field. Vines are plants that require a lot of care!
The “dream” of God is his people: he’s planted and cultivated it with patient and faithful love, that it might become a holy people, a people who might bring forth many good fruits of justice.
But whether in the ancient prophecies or the parables of Jesus, God’s dream becomes frustrated. Isaiah says that the vineyard, much loved and cared for, “has produced immature fruit” while God “expected justice but here finds bloodshed, awaited rectitude yet here the cry of oppression.” In the Gospel, meanwhile, it’s the farmers who ruin the Lord’s project: they don’t do their work, but think of their own interests.
Jesus, with his parable, addresses the chief priests and elders of the people, they being the “wise ones,” the ruling class. To these in a particular way God has entrusted his “dream,” his people, that they might cultivate it, care for it, keep it from wild animals. This is the charge of the leaders of the people: to cultivate the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.
Jesus says that, however, those farmers had seized upon the land; for their own greed and pride they want to make of it what they want, and remove God from the possibilities of realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.
The temptation of greed is always present. We likewise find it in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds, on which St Augustine remarked in his celebrated discourse which we recently took up in the Liturgy of the Hours. A greed of money and of power. And to sate this greed the evil shepherds load on the shoulders of the people insupportable burdens that they themselves don’t lift a finger to move.
We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the vineyard of the Lord. The Synodal assemblies don’t serve to discuss beautiful or original ideas, or to see who’s the most intelligent one… They serve to care for and maintain better the Lord’s vineyard, to cooperate in his dream, in his project of love for his people. In this case, the Lord asks us to take on ourselves the care of the family, which from its origins is an integral part of his design of love for humanity.
We are all sinners, eh?, and for us too there can be the temptation of “seizing upon” the vineyard, born of the greed that’s never lacking in us humans. The dream of God always clashes with the hypocrisy of some among his servants. We can “frustrate” the dream of God if we don’t let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the wisdom that is apart from science, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.
Brothers of the Synod, to care for and guard well the vineyard, we need for our hearts and minds to be guarded in Christ Jesus, from whom comes “peace from God which is beyond all understanding.” So will our thoughts and our projects be conformed to the dream of God: to form a holy people that belongs to him and produces the fruits of the Kingdom of God .
The following is the homily from the Pink Mass celebrated on Sept. 27, 2014 at St. Michael Cathedral in Springfield.
By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski
Diocese of Springfield, MA
Philippians 2: 1-5
Matthew 21: 28-32
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a privilege to gather
with you today to share in this Mass as we pray for all those who are
burdened by the diagnosis of cancer, for their caregivers in their
families, friends and in the professional medical field. I also greet
those who are joining us today by television as our Chalice of
Salvation Mass is broadcast from St. Michael Cathedral.
Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we are conscious of
the hope that is given to us in Christ Jesus as our Savior. Jesus’
words in last week’s Gospel as well as in this week’s are not easy to
hear and comprehend. Recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus
tells us of the landowner who called the workers into his field at
various parts of the day. Those who were called at a late hour got
paid first and they received a full day’s wage. When the workers
who had started in the morning received their pay, much to their
disappointment, they received the same wage as the latecomers.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the two sons who had different
reactions to their father’s request. The first son refused and then
went into the field. The second son simply responded “yes” for
convenience sake and then did not obey his father’s wishes. If we
are to truly understand this story of Jesus, we have to comprehend
the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus’ day. A conversation between
the father and his sons would not have taken place in private, but
within earshot of his neighbors or other family members. To the
people of that time, showing respect would have top priority in their
Many people would have taken the side of the second son who, on
the surface, acceded to his father’s wish, but then chose not to go
into the field. At least publicly, he showed respect to his father.
But Jesus does not ask the question in that way. He inquires,
“Which of the two did his father’s will?” In other words, which son
went beyond the mere show of respect to actually live out what was
asked of him?”
And so, Jesus asks us the same question, “Are we willing to totally
give our lives for God or do we give Him a mere hour on Sunday?”
My brothers and sisters, we gather today to pray for those who
are struggling with the cross of suffering in their lives in the form
of cancer. Neither the disease nor the treatment is an easy burden.
In this suffering, it is certainly convenient to identify with the words
of the people in the first reading today who complain to God
that the His ways are not fair. None of us really wants to
have the burden of illness affect us and yet, illness is so much a part
of our human condition. But Jesus always reminds us that we do
not carry our burdens alone. Certainly He who was willing to
accept the cross for us, is with us in our struggles.
He who had experienced the burden of betrayal and abandonment
also knows the hearts of His people. And so today, we take great
comfort in our Savior who walks with us and gives to us so many
people in our lives to remind us that we are never alone. Our
gathering today illustrates the power of our prayers in caring for
one another and helping to ease the burdens of all those who endure
not only the disease of cancer, but bravely face their treatments in
the form of chemotherapy, radiation and other means that are being
used to treat this disease. Some years ago, a very wise elderly
person who was undergoing cancer therapy treatments told me that
it was not the illness that frustrated or scared her, but the thought
of going through it alone. She had felt alienated in her suffering.
Yet, through the care of her devoted family and friends, she was not
alone in her struggles and, in their care, she also re-discovered the
care that God has for her.
What a transforming and uplifting experience during the most
difficult time of her life in that she truly felt God’s love for her.
In our second reading today, St. Paul speaks of that
transformative love that is found with our solidarity in Christ and
with one another. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any
solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and
mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same
love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” “Have in you the same
attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
Dear friends, when we are together, when we are united in
Christ, we know that we can face the burdens of life, even the illness
of cancer. None of us knows what lies ahead in life, but we can
always be assured of the merciful presence of Jesus, who took our
struggles as His own and makes all illness redemptive. To Him be
all the praise and glory! Amen!
By Steve & Michelle O’Leary
Editor’s note: The following blog is a submission from the Worldwide Marriage Encounter and focuses on being aware of difference and how to communicate.
We are two separate beings with individual backgrounds, tastes, experiences and personalities. This merger of individual identities is the confluence that blends two separate streams of consciousness into the river of marriage. Even though I respect and admire Michelle more than anyone I have ever met, she still frequently frustrates me to the point of exasperation. She is a bewildering mix of quandaries, enigmas, contradictions and vexations. And I am no better. We are two unique individuals with opposing personalities and habits.
One glaring example is the time we spend in the bathroom. In the morning, Stephen typically showers, shaves and gets dressed all in 10 minutes or so; 15 tops if he is taking his time. But I, however, use considerably more time and resources getting ready for the day. Because I like my showers so hot I sometimes overheat, so of course I need to cool down before I start with my hair or getting dressed. This time when I appear to be doing nothing frustrates Stephen, especially when there is a deadline.
Of course, the end result is a lot nicer than how I turn out. In many things we do, we are diametrically opposed. For instance, whenever we go to a large gathering, I can promise you that the absolute strangest person in the room will approach Michelle and talk to her. She really enjoys chatting with different kinds of people who approach her. I, on the other hand, tend to discourage these interactions. Frankly, they make me a little nervous.
I can be really disorganized whereas Stephen likes to know where everything is. Being late is not something about which I get worked up and Stephen feels anything later than 5 minutes early is disrespectful. I like fruits and vegetable and Stephen prefers meat and potatoes. I am more loving and intuitive and Stephen is more analytical and logical. I am flexible to change and comfortable in the face of surprises, but Stephen needs to be prepared and organized in order to feel comfortable.
However, because we recognize the value of these differences, we are able to our own strengths to compensate for and even complement the other’s weaknesses. It makes us a formidable team, both in our ministries as well as in our marriage. We believe that as a team, we are stronger than as a sum of our parts. While her differences may annoy me from time to time, I have come to understand the value they bring to our relationship. We have worked out our roles in marriage so they are complementary, allowing us to thrive by working together instead of against one another.
This does not mean that we are not equal partners, or that one is more dominant than the other. Equality in our relationship does not mean sameness – it means each of us is valued for the contribution we bring to the table. In fact, the very differences we have are perhaps our greatest strengths when they are recognized and used effectively instead of being at odds with one another.
How do our personality differences impact our ability to work as a team? Describe in Loving Detail.
By Jessica Dupont
Editor’s note: Jessica is offering her reflections while participating in a Catholic Relief Services’ trip to Burnundi. This is her second reflection.
Joy, peace and love – those three words can mean something different to everyone. I have often
looked at wall decorations that simply state those three words and thought, “I can relate to that as three important guiding principles in my life.”
However, little did I know how incomplete my connection to those words truly was until these past few days in Burundi.
On second day in Burundi, we traveled out of the city of Bujumbura to visit three Batwa villages in the Bubanza province that are supported by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) funded project, Action Batwa. Action Batwa is a project run by Fr. Elias Mwebembezi, one of the Missionary Fathers of Africa (the group also known as the White Fathers). Action Batwa’s mission is to assist the Batwa in being lifted out of the desperate poverty in which they find themselves. Socially outcast by Burundian society, the Batwa live in relative isolation from the rest of the population. We began our day in the Batwa village of Butanuka. Even before the car stopped, we were surrounded by the people of the village eager to greet us. Everyone wanted to shake our hands to express thanks for our visit. As we walked with them up the hill to the village, they sang the most beautiful song of joy, dancing and thanking Jesus for bringing us to visit them.
Once in the village, they showed us with great pride the homes that they had built with the assistance of Action Batwa. We spent a great deal of time with the people of Butanuka, seeing the beautiful community they had built and learning about the successful SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Community) project that had been instituted with the training assistance of CRS.
As we made our way to the villages of Kukabami and Musenyi, the greetings and the experiences were much the same: incredible joy as well as incredible pride in the homes that they had built and the village that they had established. All the work done with Action Batwa had put their needs and their opinions first, a concept that is central to method in which CRS operates. This experience exemplified our Catholic social teaching call to solidarity as well as subsidiarity. As Catholics, we must deepen our understanding of these concepts and seek out ways to live them in our own lives. It is not only the people of the Batwa villages that I will keep with me when I leave this place, but the lasting example of these important social teaching concepts in action and the amazing ways they can change people’s lives.
As we began day three, we came together as a group to have breakfast and share in Mass- binding our experiences here in Africa with our living faith. By late morning, we were on our way to visit the Missionaries of Charity at Kajaga. Founded by Mother Theresa their mission is to care for the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. At this site they care for children who have been abandoned as well as adults who are in need of their care. The sister who is in charge of this community has the most beautiful and calming peace as she greeted us and welcomed us to her community. Sister brought us around, introducing us to the children in her care as well as the adults. With a child in her arms, she moved from building to building with a peaceful and graceful presence that can only be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. In our group reflection that evening, one among us even commented that at times she appeared to be gliding. And here again, I’m confronted with my own previous limited perspective of what peace truly means. As we moved from the children’s buildings in the community to the buildings where to adults lived, Sister stopped in the chapel to pray and reflect. It was an unspoken reminder to hold peace in our hearts and that through prayer and reflection it can be achieved even when it seems most difficult.
Love has been a theme since arriving in Burundi for me. I witnessed it in Fr. Elias as he greeted each of the Batwa communities. I also saw the love each and every one of them had for him, and to a certain extent, for us as well. It is because of this love that Fr. Elias has committed his life to helping the Batwa live good and dignified lives as our faith tells us all people should. I saw the incredible love the children at the Missionaries of Charity had for the religious sister and the volunteers. As we toured the grounds, Sister had with her a small baby who had been crying when we walked into the nursery. The minute she scooped him up, he clung to her with his precious hands and looked up at her with the kind of love only a child can give. Lastly, the love and devotion I found in the Sister and volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity, the incredible care and respect they have for each life they care for is a perfect embodiment of the way God calls us all to love one another: all human life is to be loved and respected.
And so, when back home, my impression of those three simple words: Joy, Peace & Love, will be forever changed and will always bring me back to Burundi and remind me of the Batwa, Fr. Elias and the Missionaries of Charity and all that they are truly living out Christ’s call.
For more information on CRS SILC projects please visit: http://crs.org/united-states/introducing-savings-led-microfinance/
Editor’s note: Kathryn Buckley-Brawner (right in photo above), director of the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic Charities Agency and a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Granby, and Jessica Dupont, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Holyoke, are traveling to Burundi with Catholic Relief Services. Jessica, the daughter of Catholic Communications Mark Dupont, offers this reflection.
By Jessica Dupont
After 25 long hours of travel, the CRS Diocesan Team Delegation to Burundi landed at7:10 PM on the hot, humid night of September 10th. Forty-five minutes of paperwork, fever checks, and baggage claim fun, we were on our way into the dark Burundi evening. Given the darkness, my first experience of the country was the not of the sights but rather the sounds of humming insects and the smells of fires. Bujumbara, the capital city of Burundi, would be our home for the next 7 days.
After a much needed night’s sleep, our group was ready to embark on day 1 of our journey in country. Many of us shared the wonderful experience of being woken by the beautiful sounds of Mass being celebrated in the center of the Mont Sion Retreat center where we are staying. Even from a distance, the joy and enthusiasm with which the participants celebrated God’s word was breath-taking. As a group, we began our day celebrating Mass in a small outdoor gazebo. As a small breeze passed through while we worshiped, there was no doubt that the Holy Spirit was with us, giving us strength and encouragement for the journey ahead.
Following Mass and breakfast, we spent the remainder of our morning with the Catholic Relief Service’s (CRS) Burundi Country staff at their offices. They provided incredibly knowledgeable information regarding the major projects CRS is currently funding here in country, several of which we will be fortunate enough to go and witness first hand in the coming days. It is important to know that with the exception of very few individuals, all CRS country staff are Burundi themselves. To meet such passionate individuals committed to making a lasting and sustainable change in their country was inspiring. They have committed their lives, some upwards of 20 years, to the work of reversing and preventing malnutrition, fostering peace amongst ethnic groups through economic empowerment, and helping those marginalized by their society find work when their livelihood was taken from them. To me, they exemplify the work that God calls us to do each and every day to help those around us who are most in need.
The remainder of the day was spent touring the neighborhoods of Bujumbura, taking in the incredible landscape and economic diversity that makes up the capital.
Tomorrow, we will visit Action Batwa, an organization that is trying to change the social behaviors of the Batwa people of Burundi so as to allow for greater integration with Burundian society. Representing approximately 2% of the population, the Batwa are marginalized and outcast by Burundian society. For more information on the ethic groups of Burundi and their history, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burundi
The following is the homily given at the funeral Mass of Father Thomas F. Schmitt, professor and dean of seminarians at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary. The Liturgy of Christian Burial was held Aug. 22 at Christ the King Parish in Ludlow. Father Schmitt was 58.
By Father William B. Palardy
Rector and president of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary
It was late October or early November of last year, only a couple of weeks after the initial diagnosis of esophageal cancer, that Fr. Tom became aware of how very many people were praying for him: daily prayers, novenas, people fasting for him, people here in this great parish, folks connected with Pope St. John Seminary, his large number of family members and friends, priests of the Springfield diocese and priest alumni from John XXIII Seminary, women religious such as the sisters at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, and then the countless others whom all these people in turn had asked to pray for him. Well, as he realized just how many folks were pounding heaven on his behalf, in his usual witty way, Fr. Tom said to me one day, “Geez, I better pull through this thing, or it’s going to be a crisis of faith for a lot of people!” He meant it humorously, but in fact for many of us, it became prophetic, because when April 15th rolled around, after all the prayers, and after the rounds of chemo, radiation, and cancer surgery, when we learned that the cancer had spread to his liver, was stage 4, and that he wouldn’t have long to live, I know for me, and I suspect for many of you here today, it was indeed a crisis of faith, or at least a source of deep disappointment, disillusionment, and anger.
Yes, I was angry all right, angry with God, angry with all those saints whose intercession I and so many others had been praying for day in and day out, angry even at our patron Pope John XXIII about to be canonized a saint to whom so many of us had been praying novenas for Fr. Tom’s healing.
I went into our chapel at the seminary that evening full of anger, letting God and some of the saints know how I felt – in no uncertain terms, but then I happened to look up at the large crucifix we have in the sanctuary. I looked at the image of Jesus’ lifeless body hanging limply on the cross, and I got stopped in my tracks. I gazed at the crucifix and said, “Lord Jesus, I just can’t be angry with you. Look what you suffered out of your infinite love and your burning desire to forgive us, to forgive my friend Fr. Tom, to forgive me, my sins, and to offer us, to offer my friend Fr. Tom, to offer me the hope of life eternal, none of which any of us could have ever obtained on our own.”
In 1991 when Bishop Joseph Maguire ordained Fr. Tom to the priesthood, as part of the ordination rite the bishop placed in Fr. Tom’s hands a chalice and paten for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and spoke these words to him, “Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” We speak of the Eucharist as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – a holy sacrifice in the sense that the Eucharist makes present for us all the One Sacrifice of Christ on the cross, enabling all of us to join the sacrifices of our own lives with that sacrifice of Christ, and in receiving Holy Communion to draw from Christ’s sacrifice that we celebrate here the grace, the spiritual power, to endure the sacrifices of our own daily lives with renewed strength and Christ-like love and charity.
I have never known a priest more devoted to the Holy Eucharist than Fr. Tom Schmitt. He always made a point each day to spend time in the chapel praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
And whenever we’d travel on vacation, he’d always have his Mass kit with him, and the first thing we’d do when we’d arrive at our destination was to find a supermarket or liquor store where we could buy some wine for the celebration of Mass each day. Early on he’d even pack a huge chasuble in his suitcase. In the course of time I was finally able to convince him that when it was just the two of us celebrating Mass in a hotel room or cabin, it was okay to forgo the chasuble and just wear an alb and stole. Fr. Tom reluctantly went along with it, but deep down was still probably questioning my orthodoxy! I believe that in his 23 plus years as a priest, other than when he was hospitalized or recuperating from surgery, he never missed a day in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even in these last weeks, he would drag himself down to the chapel in the seminary to concelebrate Mass each day. When we had Mass for him in his room the last week of his life, it was only the morning before he died when he did not concelebrate Mass. As a good teacher, even in his last days Fr. Tom continued to teach all of us how essential the Holy Eucharist is in the daily life of the priest.
“Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” An image that will remain with me for the rest of my life was when we had a prayer service for Fr. Tom in his room 3 days before he died. He held a crucifix in his hands and clutched it close to his heart throughout the prayer service, and that same crucifix was lying on his chest during his final hours and at the moment of his death.
Fr. Tom selected the readings from Scripture for this funeral Mass, and while the first 2 readings are customary texts for a funeral, he specifically wanted a Gospel different from the ones in the funeral ritual book, Jesus’ words in St. John’s Gospel on love, on charity – “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus charges all of us His disciples: “No one has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The charity, the sacrificial love of Christ that Fr. Tom celebrated in each Eucharist, he strove to emulate and exemplify in his own life. I remember on one occasion speaking to him about the polarization in the Church between so-called liberals and conservatives, and some of the other divisions that can occur among people who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. His response was always, “Where is the charity, the love that Christ means for us to have and show?” So many of the divisions among Catholics he attributed to a lack of charity. While Fr. Tom always upheld the teaching of the Church in all matters, his approach to those who might disagree with Church teaching was patiently and clearly to try to give the reasons behind Church teaching, never insulting or demeaning the other person, but always treating the person with respect, kindness, and charity. And that is what he tried to impart to his students in the seminary these past 16 years.
Sacrificial, Christ-like love was in evidence throughout his life. Who will ever forget this past March when from his hospitable bed he made it to Canaan, CT to celebrate the Mass and preach the homily at his dad’s funeral? Who will ever forget the numerous times when as dean of students he accompanied seminarians who were ill to the emergency room, or comforted them when they were in crisis or sorrow, or encouraged them to persevere in their vocation, sharing his own struggles when he had been a seminarian himself? I am sure many folks in this parish can point to examples from their own experience where Fr. Tom was there for them when they were in desperate need for the healing, comforting, love of Christ, and they found it through his priestly ministry. Fr. Tom would also show his care for us when he’d remember some significant detail from our life that we’d share with him, and often when we’d least expect it – he’d bring up something we had said and with his incredible sense of timing turn it into something hilarious. I had shared with him once a somewhat callous comment made to me by someone who knew that both my parents had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Well, later on several occasions when I had a momentary lapse and couldn’t remember someone’s name, Fr Tom would repeat that earlier comment: “It doesn’t look good for you!” So often, his great wit, as quick and as outrageous as it often was, was a way that he expressed his attentiveness and love for us.
The reading from the Book of Revelation that we just heard Fr. Tom’s nephew Carl proclaim speaks of a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more death or mourning, where we will be in God’s presence forever, and where we will share completely in the victory of Christ over sin and death. And yes, Fr. Tom looked forward to this new heaven and new earth, but did he ever love and enjoy the present heaven and earth that we all share. He could point out many of the constellations in the night sky, and when it came to the natural beauty of earth that we’d encounter on hikes and bike rides, he was so enamored and full of wonder at God’s creative artistry. He could name just about every tree, plant, or bird that we ever came across, and appreciate all the details and distinctions among their many varieties. An exceptionally bright and intelligent man, Fr. Tom excelled not only in his understanding and presentation of theology, but he also had a lot of expertise in history, science, botany, mechanics, technology, and several languages. Yet, never was he haughty or condescending; he just liked to share his knowledge and his wonder about the world around him, so that some of his own joy might spill over onto all of us.
I still can’t begin to understand why God has taken such an outstanding priest, such a gifted teacher, such a wise and vivacious colleague, such a dear friend from us. But what I do know is that Fr. Tom did indeed model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross, that he exemplified what a priest is called to be, that he freely gave and graciously received the love that is rooted in Jesus Christ. As he was a witness throughout his priestly life, and especially during his illness, to the reality of Christ’s cross, so we pray that he is now sharing in the joy of Christ’s resurrection, that he is now finding the new heaven and new earth infinitely more glorious than the beautiful heaven and earth he enjoyed here with us, and we pray that Jesus Christ, whose love Fr. Tom shared so lavishly with us here, now embraces him with complete peace and joy. Today in the Church calendar we celebrate the feast of Mary as Queen of Heaven. May the Blessed Mother to whom Fr. Tom was so devoted on earth welcome him now to his place at the heavenly banquet.
By Julie Beaulieu
In the recent death of Robin Williams, I reflected on the people I’ve known in my life who have suffered from mental illness, including my mother and a close friend. All forms of mental illness are serious diseases that have drastic effects on not only an individual, but his or her families and loved ones.
As mentioned in a previous blog of mine, I was raised as an only child, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and a father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in the Vietnam War. I have an older half-sister from my father’s first marriage who grew up in a different household. I’m also the only grandchild of Polish immigrants.
Although my mother sought treatment in her thirties for depression, she was misdiagnosed. At age 40, she suffered a psychotic break and was first hospitalized. I was in high school. Frightened and ashamed, I did my best to hide her illness from my friends.
While in college, I received a call from my mother’s job stating that she had been sent to the emergency room. What I recall most from that psychiatric hospitalization was my grandfather saying, “I hope I die before I see her go into the hospital again.” His wish came true. My grandfather passed away from heart disease in the fall of 1992. The point is for my readers to realize the extreme pain and devastation these illnesses bring not only to an individual, but to the entire family.
My grandparents generation, that of World War II, viewed mental illness as a shameful embarrassment, that was to be kept a secrete at all costs. Both of my grandparents constantly agonized over the haunting thoughts of what they had done wrong as parents to have such an ill child. Still, prior to my grandmother falling ill with vascular dementia in 2007, she would walk half a mile to the hospital to visit her daughter into her mid-eighties saying, “She is my flesh and blood.”
In 2007, my mother had several hospitalizations which consumed six months of her life out of that year. I knew that something needed to be done to keep her on her medication while she was at home, so I sought a Community Roger’s Order and Medical Guardianship of her. My mother is now under a court order to be medicated against her will and has not been hospitalized since the fall of 2009.
However, my experience with suicide goes back to my childhood, knowing that my godmother’s father had suffered a horrific death before I was born. This man was, like my grandfather, a veteran of the Polish army from World War II, who had relocated to American in the early 1950’s. I can only speculate that he suffered from PTSD and depression. He was a husband and father of two adult children when one day, in the late 1960’s, the poured gasoline all over his bedroom, tied himself to the bed, and lit the room on fire.
Men suffer from depression as much as women do, but are less likely to get help and more likely to succeed at a suicide attempt. (The Mask of Male Depression http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=major_depression&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=79265)
My father, a Vietnam veteran, also suffers from PTDS related anxiety and depression, which he self-medicated for years with alcohol and drugs. In 2006, he completed an in-patient program at the Veteran’s Hospital in Leeds and now takes prescription medication.
An incident that still remains in my mind was the tragic loss of a male friend, P, who committed suicide by hanging in 2000. I remember P as, “the life of the party,” and as someone who always clowned around. Yet, he had a sensitive side.
Something dark had lived inside of him. At the age of 10, P’s mother lost her battle with cancer. She died in bed while sleeping next to her son. P carried this pain and sorrow with him through out his life, and often self-medicated with alcohol and drugs.
As time went on, P began to use heavier drugs and had been in and out of rehab. He developed serious financial problems. He had relationship problems. After a brief failed marriage, another serious relationship had ended. He was asked to leave a house he shared with roommates and had to stay with a relative.
Shortly before his death, he abandoned an in-house rehab program and began using again. I kept asking his other male friends what was wrong. They felt that P’s problems, at the time, were private. Soon after, he was found dead. People closest to him felt that he wouldn’t commit suicide because he had a young son. Regrets ran rampant among his circle of friends, including myself. I wrote this poem about P, trying to imagine what he may have been feeling.
I am not strong enough to face anymore tomorrows.
I am not strong enough to look at myself in the mirror.
I am not strong enough to stop.
I am not strong enough to continue failing.
I am not strong enough to be a father, a lover, a worker, a friend.
I am not strong enough to be who I once was.
I am not strong enough to be who all of you expect me to be.
I am not strong enough to even realize who I am anymore.
I am not strong enough to get better, to get well.
I was strong enough to make one last choice.
I was not strong enough to realize how much I was loved.
Be strong, all of you.
Be strong enough to forgive me.
Be strong enough to let me go.
Be strong for each other, and remember me always.
Help is always available to those who need it. Perhaps P had an underlying depressive illness that may not have been diagnosed during detoxification. Drugs and alcohol far too often mask mental illnesses.
Over a year ago, I did a story on local activist and volunteer for the Western Massachusetts NAMI chapter (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Ted Dunn, a former professor and football coach at Springfield College. Now in his 90’s, Dunn spoke openly about his own battle with depression.
Dunn is also author of the book, “Living with Depressive Illness and Finding Joy Again: A Holistic Approach.”
Luckily, my mother never has attempted suicide, although she has mentioned it on occasion. Never take a threat of suicide lightly and seek help immediately, either for yourself, or a loved one. For more information go to http://www.nami.org
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.
By Julie Beaulieu
There’s a saying that no one knows what your life is like until he/she has walked a mile in your shoes. With that said, I decided to share my own personal journey through the darkness of memory loss, brain disease and mental illness with my viewers.
Currently, I am care giver to two adult family members, my mother and also my maternal grandmother. I was raised as an only child, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and a father who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in the Vietnam War. I have an older half sister from my father’s first marriage who grew up in a different household. I’m also the only grandchild of Polish immigrants.
Although my mother sought treatment in her thirties for depression, she was misdiagnosed. At age 40, she suffered a psychotic break and was first hospitalized. I was in high school. Frightened and ashamed, I did my best to hide her illness from my friends.
While in college, I received a call from my mother’s job stating that she had been sent to the emergency room. What I recall most from that psychiatric hospitalization was my grandfather saying, “I hope I die before I see her go into the hospital again.” His wish came true. My grandfather passed away from heart disease in the fall of 1992. I share this point in order for my readers to realize the extreme pain and devastation these illnesses bring not only to an individual, but to the entire family.
In 2007, my mother had several hospitalizations which consumed six months of her life out of that year. I knew that something needed to be done to keep her on her medication while she was at home, so I sought a Community Roger’s Order and Medical Guardianship of her.
That same year, my grandmother, age 83, had a fall which required her to have hand surgery. This all took place during November while my mother had a long term hospitalization at Providence Behavioral Hospital.
The orthopedic surgeon and I decided it would be best if my grandmother spent one night in the hospital. I called her that night in her hospital room to say good night and wish her well. The next morning, to my surprise, she was not able to return home. When I arrived at Holyoke Medical Center, she had gone into a complete state of psychosis and delirium. It took the doctors one week to diagnose her with vascular dementia and I was contacted by a social worker to find nursing home placement for her. All the while, my mother was still on the psychiatric unit at Providence. The best word to describe my emotion and state of mind during this time is bereft. My grandmother had been the rock of the family, my caregiver. The one person in the world whom I knew loved me unconditionally. Would she ever come out of this demented state? Would she be placed in a nursing home for the remainder of her life? Would she ever again be the grandmother who knew and loved me so well? I cried every day for over a month.
During my time as a reporter, I have covered some difficult, sad topics. I never have cried on a shoot, or during an interview, but I have cried while watching some of the video afterwards. I believe one of my most wonderful gifts as a reporter is my ability to empathize. Recently, while completing my story on Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Faith, which aired on June 28, 2014, I cried while watching Donald.
Donald, who is probably in his 80’s, is so grief stricken by his wife’s illness and loss of his life partner, that he confesses on camera, there are times when he wishes he were dead. I too, have suffered a tremendous loss similar to his. To watch the pieces of who your loved one used to be slowly disappear day after day is heart-wrenching and devastating. It’s a grieving process that seems to have no end. The only end is death, which only starts another grieving process.
Donald’s wife is a resident of Mt. St. Vincent’s Continuing Care Facility. Due to her advanced stage of dementia, she believes she is in her early 20’s, prior to when she had met Donald. Because she doesn’t recall getting married, she doesn’t believe that Donald is her husband. Nearly 60 years of her life have been completely erased from her memory.
Charlie, also featured in my story, is age 85 and has an apartment in the independent living unit at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing in Springfield. Because this facility allows its residents to add on services of, “assisted living,” and also has a unit of, “skilled nursing,” Charlie was able to stay in the same building as his wife Dottie when she developed dementia. He felt that this living arrangement made a world of difference in their lives as the disease progressed and changes occurred.
“I could walk over and see her without ever needing to go outside,” said Charlie.
Charlie shared that watching her physical and mental decline was difficult, but that she did remain active and always kept her spirits up. Dottie was a skier, camper, golfer and avid tennis player. She also was head of merchandise and did all window dressing and displays for their family run business, Johnson’s bookstore. While living on the skilled nursing unit, Dottie’s creativity was able to shine through as she decorated for the different seasons and holidays. In 2006, Dottie passed away from physical complications. Her dementia never progressed into an advanced state.
Dementia effects people from all walks of life. Who it effects has little to do with race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic class nor level of education.
Doreatha Allen, also in her mid-eighties, is an African American woman suffering from mid stage dementia, who is still able to remain living in her home, thanks to her daughter.
“One of the things we had discussed was that she wanted to remain in her home. So, I’m trying to honor that and am going to honor that as long as I can,” said Joy Danita Allen, Doreatha’s daughter and caregiver.
Joy Danita Allen is a Lady of St. Peter Claver at St. Michael’s Cathedral Parish. In July, Joy, along with the Ladies’ Auxilary, sponsored and organized the first Purple Mass and attended with her 84 year old mother, Doretha, also a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. The Purple Mass was in support and recognition of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
For many, entering a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) is not a choice, but a necessity for the health and safety of an individual. Your loved one may say, “Don’t ever put me into a nursing home.” Keep in mind that people don’t put other people into nursing homes, circumstances do.
For five years after her dementia diagnosis, my grandmother was able to remain in her apartment in elderly housing with the aid of outside services and an adult day health program. She fought tooth and nail each time a service was added, but eventually came around. She had three short term rehabilitation stays in local skilled nursing facilities. After each stay, my uncle and I would switch nights and sleep over her house with her until she was able to spend the night alone. I did her grocery shopping, picked up her medication, took her to all doctor appointments, came to her apartment when she didn’t let the aid in, or refused to go to her day program. I did it all for love.
None-the-less, the time came in August 2012 when my grandmother needed 24/7 care — care in which our family could not provide. The only person retired and available to care for my grandmother was my mother, who is schizophrenic and now had Alzheimer’s onset. Facing this fact was heartbreaking for the whole family. For the first two months, each time we visited Anna (my grandmother) she would stand up and say, “Did you come to take me home?”
I, as Anna’s health care proxy, had to decide which facility she would now live in. I used the 90 days I had to make a decision. Her son and I felt it best to keep her at the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke. I then had these 90 days to clear out her apartment in which she had lived for over 25 years. It was 90 days until she was considered a resident and the insurance started paying for long term care.
For one month, I did nothing but water the plants and pick up the mail. Then, I began packing and sorting. Some close friends of mine would come and help me pack and load up the car with boxes. Often times, when they left and I was alone, I would cry. Moving day came in December of 2012. My uncle, father, and boyfriend all helped. Her whole life’s belongings had been in that little, two room apartment. If that wasn’t depressing enough, now it had to be downsized to only half a room.
Since that time, Anna had hemorrhaging and was diagnosed with stage 2 endometrial cancer. I had to decide on emergency surgery. I then had to decide on a treatment plan. This heavy burden caused me to tremble with fear and hide in bed, weeping, and wondering, “Did I do the right thing?” Soon I learned to trust my faith, because faith and fear can not exist together. Her life is not in my hands. It is in the hands of God. Only then did I feel this heavy burden lighten.
My grandmother, Anna, found a new home when the Geriatric Authority closed this past spring. She also survived surgery and was able to complete 5 rounds of radiation.
Perhaps, the greatest blessing of all was the birth of my daughter in October 2013. Viola Anna has brought incredible joy and hope to my whole family. She has had a miraculous influence on both Anna and my mother Irene in regards to their dementia, for they are very present and active when she is around. What I’ve learned from this journey is that God truly does work in mysterious ways, and that prayers never go unanswered.
To read Julie’s story on the Purple Mass and Alzheimer’s for iobserve or watch her reporting for Real to Reel click on the links below.
By Greg & Donna Cambio
We have good friends that we’ll call Ted and Alice. They have been our friends for 40 years. Ted’s dad passed away recently. When we went to visit, our conversation turned to our long friendship. We recalled the times Ted and Alice supported us through our son’s illness and how we were with them when their oldest child became ill. We recalled the times we were there for each other when each of our parents passed away. And we recalled many fun times over the years too!
As we drove home from our visit, it dawned on us that we had been “journeying” with Ted and Alice all these 40 years! We have learned so much from their faith in action, as a couple. They help us grow and be the best couple we can be just by their love for us.
The more we thought about it, we realized that our lives are all about journeying with others. From the time we are born we journey to adulthood with our families, friends, schoolmates and others. So many people along the way have taught us, healed us, loved us. Some of the journeys have been difficult or painful. Each journey has an influence on the persons we are today, as well as the persons we will become.
God gave us the Church – Mass as public worship – to journey with others in our faith. Not only that, He promised to be there Himself whenever two or more are gathered in His name.
Whenever we share our thoughts and listen to each other; whenever we work with others toward a common goal; whenever we even just sit nearby in a hospital room — we are journeying with others. Each encounter is another step in the journey.
Questions to continue the Conversation:
Who has enriched our lives as a couple/priest? How do I feel about that?
Our journey with ______has been difficult for me. How do I feel sharing this with you?
Our journey with ______brings me joy. Why?
I shy away from journeying with _____. How do I feel about my answer?
I would like to journey with _____. How do I feel sharing this with you?
You are invited to discover ways to greater intimacy, unity and joy for your journey as a married couple on a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend! Call 1-800-710-WWME (9963) or go to http://www.wwmeMARI.org or email to info@wwmeMARI.org
By Sister Mary Ann Walsh
The Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases rests on an important part of the American experience: the defense of religious freedom. The Green family owners of Hobby Lobby and the Hahn family owners of Conestoga Wood say their pro-life beliefs permeate their entire lives. The result: They run companies that are generous with life-giving benefits when it comes to health insurance. They also find abhorrent the idea that the government would make them finance through health insurance life-taking activities, such as drugs and procedures that can end human life.
Fighting for freedom of religious belief and practice is fundamental to being an American. The decision coming down days before the nation’s annual Fourth of July celebration, and during the bishops’ third Fortnight for Freedom, speaks loudly of the freedoms on which our nation was formed.
People can and do exercise religious freedom in their everyday and business lives. Some, such as Hobby Lobby, reflect their religious principles in how they run a family business and the insurance plans they provide for employees. Some companies refuse to open on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Some run a kosher kitchen and you can buy your pork elsewhere. In the United States, all have a right to let religious values influence their business decisions.
Alas, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seems to have but one goal: promotion of birth control and abortion. HHS’s unrelenting drive to force its idea of women’s health care on everyone is breathtaking and heavy-handed. For those who will not comply with the HHS mandate to provide employees and their dependents contraceptives, sterilization and life-terminating drugs and devices, the fine is $100 a day per employee, that is, $36,500 a year per employee. Indeed, the government penalizes employers who can’t comply with the mandate more than those who offer no health care at all, whose payment is $2000 a year per employee. For HHS, apparently you’re better off with no employer health plan at all than with a plan sans contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The Court decision reminds us that government must meet a high bar to infringe on religious freedom, and people of all creeds are watching. Because the HHS mandate still applies to religious ministries that serve people – think schools, food pantries, shelters, and other social service operations – the mandate threatens faith-based charities with steep fines for noncompliance. It can easily threaten the very ability of those ministries to serve the poor, the sick and vulnerable. Charities won’t last long paying government fines of $36,500 a year per employee. The recent decision refers to an “accommodation” proposed by the Obama Administration for non-profits which many, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, find intrusive into their religious freedom. These groups have filed suit because the government’s suggested accommodation would force religious non-profits to certify and legally authorize someone else to provide objectionable services in their name. The court did not decide these cases, which will likely face it in its new term, but has helpfully said that it is not the government’s job to second-guess how religious groups view their religious obligations.
The government also says it acknowledges religions by basically exempting houses of worship from the HHS mandate. That reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship, by affording protection to worship in the sanctuary but not to service to the needy. This violates both a longstanding understanding of religious freedom and the Catholic tradition. Helping people is part of the essence of the Catholic Church. The story of the Good Samaritan, who helped the stranger in need, tells us that serving your neighbor is integral to Christianity. When HHS decided what is and is not “religion” deserving religious freedom protection, it overstepped its bounds.
Go to a University of Notre Dame football game and hear the announcements for Mass times for the students afterwards. Go to a Little Sisters of the Poor home for the elderly and watch the nuns tend to patients, comforted by a crucifix on the wall. There’s something different in the air. It stems from religious belief, and it’s Catholicism imbuing everyday life. Why would anyone want our society flattened out into one that does not welcome this as part of our American diversity?
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Northeast Community. She is an award-winning writer and has been published in several periodicals including The Washington Post, USA Today, America, and Editor & Publisher and is editor of three books: Pope John Paul II: A Light for the World, From John Paul II to Benedict XVI: An Inside Look at the End of an Era, the Beginning of a New One and the Future of the Church, and Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy.
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.